To borrow from Rick Pitino, Nicklas Lidstrom is not walking through that door.
Nor is Tomas Holmstrom. Or Marian Hossa. Or Brian Rafalski. Or Valtteri Filppula. Or Kris Draper.
So yeah, perhaps these aren't your older brother's Detroit Red Wings. I'll grant ya that.
Like I said, it may turn out to be that the Pens will face Columbus instead of the Wings. But if it indeed turns out to be Detroit, Penguins fans would be smart not to believe that a potential Wings/Penguins series would be a virtual walk in the park.
They're still the Detroit Red Wings, they're on the verge of clinching their 23rd straight playoff appearance, and they arguably have the best coach in the NHL.
And, oh yeah, there's that pesky little Stanley Cup Final series seemingly waaaaaaay back in 2009.
You remember that, don't ya? Penguins get blown out in Detroit in Game 5 to go down 3-2 in the series. But after an excruciatingly nerve-racking win at the Igloo in Game 6, the Penguins, led by Max Talbot's two goals absolutely stun the home Detroit crowd in Game 7 as Sidney Crosby hoisted the Cup right in front of their eyes. Just like the Wings did in 2008 in Pittsburgh the previous year.
Trust me when I say that the Wings and their fans have been waiting a long time for a bit of revenge, to put it politely. I heard it for years at my previous gig at the Red Wings-based blogs at Kukla's Korner.
On paper, the Wings may not be as strong throughout their lineup as in previous years, but they've still got plenty of firepower:
- They might be hobbled, but they've got their own "two-headed monster" in Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg. And if you need a reminder, those two literally shut Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin down for the entire 2009 Cup Final.
- The Wings have absolutely mastered the art of getting away with interference. That's not coming from some jaded Penguins fan, that's widely felt league-wide. You've gotta give them credit though, I have no idea how they've done it, but they take full advantage of it.
- They employ one of the biggest hitters in the game in Niklas Kronwall, who has had laid out dozens of thunderous hits throughout his career, but has never been fined nor suspended for any of them.
- And finally, it sure looks like they've found their next sniper in Gustav Nyquist.
On the home front, the Penguins are filled with so many questions, it's frankly hard to get a really good gauge of just how good (or not) this team is going to be in the playoffs.
Will Evgeni Malkin be ready to go? Will Kris Letang feel ready to at least try? Will Marc-Andre Fleury erase those painful playoff performances? How will Dan Bylsma match up against Mike Babcock?
I fully expect that Bylsma and the Penguins will be cautiously resting players who are hobbled during this last week of regular season games.
So if the Wings and Penguins do indeed match up in the playoffs, would the Penguins be the favorite? Yes, I think that's a fair assessment. I mean, let's face it, if the Penguins are healthy, and play close to their potential, they can skate with any team in the NHL.
But I think we all realize that the playoffs are a different animal. It's potentially seven games against a common opponent. It's about match-ups. These two teams, even five seasons removed from their Stanley Cup Finals battle, know each other very well.
Don't overlook that.